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Advice on Kids and School Shooting: Turn Off TV

An expert shares advice for parents who are trying to explain the Newtown, CT, school shooting to their kids.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, parents may be struggling with how to tell their children what happened.

Lauren Hutchinson, a child and family therapist and parenting consultant with a practice in Bellevue, WA, advises that step one should be to “turn off the TV.”

“We don’t want to have the TV playing in the background all the time," she said. "It isn’t helpful and the news is traumatizing for kids to watch.”  

Hutchinson says that kids 7 and younger should be shielded completely from media coverage "and parents should not initiate a conversation about the event because kids this age cannot make sense of what has happened.”

“Kids don’t need to know the specific details of the event, like that the shooter was dressed all in black,” she said.

She said that young children “hold tight to those kinds of negative images.”

Susan Burkinshaw, a health and safety chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and a mother of three from Germantown, says the National PTA website has tips and parent guides for dealing with school violence.

Burkinshaw said ultimately parents have to decide what they’re comfortable with.

“But you also have to be sensitive to the fact that some kids have all the information and other kids have no information,” Burkinshaw said. “You can't protect your kids from the information they're going to hear outside.”

For children 7 to 12, Hutchinson advises parents and guardians to “provide them with basic information and reassure them.”

“The most important thing for kids this age is to know that they are safe," she said. "Talk about how parents and school teachers and staff work hard to protect kids and do tell them that the police 'got the bad guy.'"

Hutchinson says that parents should “read the child’s cues and let them bring up what he or she wants to talk about.”

Burkinshaw said she decided to be open with her children about what happened.

“I can't imagine if my daughter didn't hear it from me, with the facts, or the facts as we know them now, what types of stories she might hear from friends who might have just picked up pieces about it from news of from hearing their parents talk about it.”

Hutchinson said that taking a specific action such as lighting a candle for the victims can also help.

“Rituals are important, especially during times like these, for comfort and healing.”

Ian Brett Cooper December 17, 2012 at 02:02 PM
The police didn't get the guy. He shot himself. The rest of the article makes sense, but I am not going to lie to my kid about something like that - there's no need.
MarcusofMaryland December 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Yea tell the truth to your kids. I told my kids. My kids know i have firearms, altough they dont know where they are since i use a safe when not carrying. My kids asked questions and i answered them. Trust me they did not miss a minute of sleep. Personaly i believe that kids are more concerned with being kids and as adults we should let them stay that way. This morning the school told my kids what happened and my kids were prepared to hold a discussion they told me that their teachers talked about the shooting, and my kids said that they told them that " guns are not bad, and that people who use them to kill people and animals are." I didnt tell them about animals they came up with that on their own. Hunting to survive i agree with, for sport i do not. You should 85% of the time tell your kids the truth. The 15% of the time that you dont would be when asked " where did the baby come from", " is Santa real";... It wouldnt be a whole story just not the whole truth. :D
Patrick Urquidez January 02, 2013 at 03:46 AM
I told my kids before they heard it from somewhere else. They also know that I own guns, and they also know that they are secured with trigger locks and I carry they keys with me. Owning firearms when you have kids is safe as long as you know how to use and store them, as well as teaching your kids about the safety precautions so they understand that a gun is not a toy.

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